What is carbon monoxide?

Rebecca Morley
Health Education
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas that is difficult to detect because it is odorless and invisible. As a result, it is known as “the silent killer.” According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), this poisonous gas kills nearly 300 people in their homes each year.

CO is produced by fuel-burning appliances and equipment in our homes. If you have heating, cooking or power equipment that uses fuels such as oil, natural gas, coal, wood, propane, gasoline, etc., then your home is at risk for potential CO poisoning. Homes with attached garages are also at risk, because vehicles left running in the garage can cause CO to seep into the home.

Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to symptoms of the flu, and can include headache, dizziness, nausea and shortness of breath. To distinguish between symptoms of flu and CO poisoning, if you feel better after leaving home and then worse again when you return, it may be CO exposure causing the symptoms.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that has no color or odor. It is given off by burning fuel (as in exhaust from cars or household heaters) and tobacco products. Carbon monoxide prevents red blood cells from carrying enough oxygen for cells and tissues to live.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.